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The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 will have a familiar face for many this year.
Ridgetown native Chris von Martel will take his Equestrian talents on the world’s biggest stage and hope to bring home a gold medal for his country.
Despite not being selected for the 2016 Rio Summer Games, von Martel is now heading to Tokyo after being nominated by Equestrian Canada for his first Olympic team.
Von Martels is based in Wellington, Fla., where he sells and trains horses at the von Martels Dressage equestrian facility. His family has worked with horses for generations.
“We’ve always had horses here on our farm in Ridgetown,” said his mother, Debbie von Martels. “So it was a very natural progression that he had a love for horses. Chris and the sister have ridden horses since they could walk.”
Like most Canadians, von Martels grew up playing hockey. Despite always having a love and passion for riding, von Martels got a late start to the game and did not start competing at a provincial level until he was 13 years old.
According to his mother, Debbie, von Martels will be taking his horse Eclips to compete in the Olympics -- a horse he has only been riding for about a year and a half.
Eclips is a warmblood horse, bred and raised in Holland. Debbie said warmblood horses are a unique breed of horses to the sport. She added most horses tend to be from European lines, which is what makes Europeans so good at the sport.
Because the games are more than 7,390 kilometres away from von Martels home in Wellington, Florida, Eclips will have a long plane ride. However, Debbie said horses fly very well.
“I always say to people, they don’t have the stress of flying because they really don’t know they’re flying,” said von Martels. “They are put in box stalls, and they eat and drink normally, and they don’t get jet lag or anything like that. So they’ll step off that plane thinking they’ve just been in a barn that moves a little bit.”
In 2015, Chris von Martels won two medals at the Pan Am Games in Toronto. It was his debut at a major Games and his first time on a senior national team.
He rode a horse named Zilverstar and won bronze in the individual dressage final. He also won a silver in team dressage.
That year was good to von Martels. He was named the Equine Canada Equestrian of the Year and Dressage Canada Athlete of the Year for 2015.
Despite the great year, Chris and his horse Zilverstar didn’t make it to the Grand Prix level and therefore did not make it to the Olympics.
Now riding Eclips, a horse Chris has only been riding for about a year and a half, Debbie said she always knew her son had the talent needed to make it to the Olympics.
“I always thought it was possible. He’s a very good horseman and has great determination and focus,” said von Martels.
Chris von Martels will be one of three Canadians to represent Canada on the big stage.
As proud as Debbie is of her son Chris, she said she is overwhelmed with the support and kind messages she has received from people around Ridgetown.
“The feedback and the people excited about it has just been amazing,” said von Martels. “All our neighbours are stopping and saying ‘this is so exciting’. It’s been really nice for the family, but I think the whole town is pretty excited that we have someone going to the Olympics, especially with the equestrian sports because there are only three people who get to go. So it makes it pretty hard to get there for sure.”
While Equestrian has typically been a sport dominated by the European for years, Debbie said she is just proud her son is living his dreams and believes he has the talents to win a medal.
The last time Canada received a medal in Equestrian was back in 1987 when Canada won bronze.
“We are sending a solid young team this year, and they are just the best of friends, the three of them and very, very supportive of one another,” said von Martels. All I hope is that they go over and just have had the best ride they can. I don’t care if they bring home a medal. I’m just excited that they’re there.”
There will be six Equestrian events, which will run from July 24 to August 7, with 200 competitors from 49 nations competing.
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News